Skip to comments.How English is taught in Texas likely to change
Posted on 07/05/2006 8:34:28 AM PDT by Clara Lou
Education board may take conservative turn on reading, writing standard
AUSTIN - The State Board of Education, an elected body with a history of fierce ideological debates about textbook content, now wants to put its stamp on the curriculum that guides the instruction of 4.4 million Texas schoolchildren.
At its meeting Thursday, the 15-member board is expected to scrap a curriculum revision process dominated by teachers and the Texas Education Agency and discuss a new timetable for revising the English reading and writing standards.
Many on the board want to replace a student-centered curriculum that calls on students to use their own attitudes and ethics to interpret texts with teacher-centered instruction that emphasizes the basics of spelling, grammar and punctuation.
It was a fight social conservatives on the board lost in 1997, when moderates and liberals adopted the curriculum for all subjects. Now, with social conservatives expected to have a majority on the board for the first time after the November elections, the plan to rewrite the English standards is viewed by some as the opening shot in an effort to put a conservative imprint on the state's curriculum.
'A big battle'
"This is really going to be the big battle in public education over the next few years what is it our students are going to learn," said Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network, a group that monitors the state board for influence by the religious right. "We could see a lot of textbooks that are based on personal and political beliefs of a majority of the state board rather than on facts that students need to learn."
Quinn said that though it's unlikely that the English curriculum discussion will veer toward any political ideology, the effort could set the stage for 2008, when science standards are up for review.
The board defeated efforts to weaken the discussion of evolution in biology textbooks in 2003, but Quinn said that if the science curriculum is rewritten to include religious-based ideas such as intelligent design, the books will follow suit.
Texas' national impact
Because Texas is such a large market for publishers, textbook adoptions here have national repercussions.
Board member Don McLeroy, a Bryan Republican who is pushing the effort to change the reading and writing standards, denied any agenda to inject religion into the Texas curriculum.
"That's a false thing to worry about," said McLeroy. "You never heard me interject religion into anything, and I'm a very religious guy."
McLeroy said he had wanted the biology books to include more information about the "weaknesses of evolution." He said he doesn't envision including creationism or intelligent design a theory that holds that a supernatural force played a hand in creation in the state's science curriculum.
McLeroy said his only motive is to make the learning standards more understandable for teachers and parents. He wants to implement a back-to-basics curriculum that could drive achievement on reading and writing tests.
"Texas standards are not grade-level specific, most of them are noise. They can't be measured and are just a bunch of fuzzy words," McLeroy said.
State law gives the board authority over curriculum content standards, called the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS. It is one of the few duties left to the board, which has seen some of its authority over textbooks stripped by the Legislature.
Board member Mary Helen Berlanga, a Corpus Christi Democrat who often clashes with conservatives about textbook content, said she believes McLeroy is leading a "good-faith effort" to help students learn. But she also said as the process moves forward, "we're going to have to be very watchful."
The education agency is revising the standards subject by subject. The board accepted the math revisions proposed by the TEA last year.
The education agency already has convened a teacher study group to study the English TEKS, and the revisions were scheduled to be presented to the board for approval later this year. But the board stopped that process in April and set a June 14 work session to hear from reading experts about the curriculum.
That meeting changed the minds of some board members, including board chairman Geraldine "Tincy" Miller, who apologized to McLeroy at the end of the meeting.
"I really was convinced we had an incredible curriculum, and it just needed a little tweaking," said Miller, R-Dallas. "We need to stop this process right now."
One criticism voiced at the session is that the TEKS are too student-centered, often asking students to use their attitudes, behaviors and ethics to interpret texts. For example, students in fourth through eighth grades are expected to "describe mental images that text descriptions evoke" and "compare text events with his or her own or other readers' experiences."
McLeroy calls such standards "fuzzy English" and wants to expunge them from the state's curriculum. He said such standards can't be measured on state tests.
Board member David Bradley, R-Beaumont, voted in 1997 in favor of an alternate set of standards that was heavier on the basics of spelling and grammar. Critics said the alternate standards would wind up micromanaging teachers by dictating what and how they must teach rather than giving them the flexibility to determine how to reach individual students.
Fierce fight in 1997
The 1997 struggle to revamp curriculum for all subjects was billed as the "education battle of the decade." Then-Gov. George W. Bush blasted a first draft as "mushy" and replete with "feel-good" philosophies, but supported later versions as "good documents."
The state spent more than $9 million preparing the 1,000-page document. More than 350 Texans served on committees that drafted the TEKS and more than 18,000 people wrote or called the education agency with comment.
Little debate on math
Last year, the board approved modifications to the math curriculum with little debate. Education agency spokesman Debbie Graves Ratcliffe said English standards are more difficult to write than some other subjects because there are many alternate theories.
"Whether you like it or not, certain historical events happened on certain dates. With English you can just take off and go so many different directions," said Ratcliffe.
Barbara Foorman, director of the Center for Academics and Reading Skills at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, helped write the English TEKS in 1997. However, she has changed her mind and told the board last month that the standards need change.
Foorman said the standards aren't teacher friendly, and that many districts have had to spend money to translate them into classroom lesson plans.
Foorman would like to see the standards reduced in number and made more specific.
But she said there is a danger that the standards might become too prescriptive or too political if designed by the board.
"I'd hate to have politics mixing too much with it," Foorman said. "I'd much rather have a disinterested panel make some suggestions."
One issue that could prove contentious is whether to mandate specific reading lists for students. That now is considered a matter of local control, either by the district or individual teachers.
Board member Terri Leo, R-Spring, said at last month's work session that she's worried students aren't reading enough classic literature.
The "opening shot" to take it BACK from liberal educrats? When the media is liberal, there is never any need to paint a full picture of how things PRESENTLY are.
"Dead white males" were tossed out nationally when PC Clintonoids ran the world.
Me failed English? That's unpossible!
I think that it's an opening shot to deliver the curriculum from the mush it's become.
If I had to read that friggin' book about Pip, then everyone has to! ;o)
The last sentence sounds like what the kids got when the liberals were in charge, so I guess this guy must be in favor of the conservative changes. ;-)
I didn't realize they speak English in Texas. :)
Yall - As in "Yall got a nice pickup!"
Y'all - As in "Y'all better get outta here before the sheriff arrives!"
Sumpin - As in "Sumpin stinks around here!"
My kids and I were laughing the other day about the way we Texans talk.
We have "hins" (chickens),
"pins" (a place where you keep your sheep)
and "dins" (kinda like a living room)
The teacher-centered approach [the one that most of us experienced if we were educated in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and distinctively non-Deweyian] means that the teacher gives the students lessons with specific objectives. Kids don't get to pick what they learn from the lesson.
As in most things, each approach has advantages and disadvantages. I teach fisrt-year Spanish at the middle school level, and I use the teacher-centered approach. That's because my students better learn what I tell them to in order to be ready for 2nd-year Spanish. I find myself teaching them things about English that we all used to learn in elementary school--both vocabularywise and grammarwise [for instance, the difference between "infinitive" and "infinity," what a direct object is, etc.]
Here in Caleeforneeeya, we have our own way of speaking too, but it depends on whether you are in the North or South end of the state as to how you speak.
For example, in SoCal a typical phrase is "Like dude, the sun is like, perfect for like, taking a walk or like, surfin dude. Let's take the 5 over to the 208 and hit some waves."
Whereas, in NoCal it would be "Pssssssssst, Whoa man...the sun is totally freaking me out man! I think I better go for a walk in the woods man... by the way man, have you seen my pants?"
Same here. Having to teach English BEFORE I can teach Spanish. Absurd.
Yep Our twin girls are 2 and 3 levels above grade average because we have a home version of summer school where they learn basic Math, History and English.
They tried to put the youngest in an accelerated course. When I asked her what she thought about it, she said- "Mom, it would be okay if we were assigned good stuff with pirates or spaceships, but all they ever give us to read is about characters getting in touch with their feeeeel-ings!"
Needless to say, she's not going. She can just to continue to work her way through my book collection and the local libraries.
Would this interest your ping list?
Sounds as though you have something great going!
I had the hardest time getting one of my girls to understand that 'dog' is NOT spelled D-A-W-G!
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